Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 09/18/2020
Format: 09/18/2020
Demetrice A. Smith v. State of Tennessee
E2019-01689-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Demetrice A. Smith, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2017
guilty-pleaded convictions of possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony drug offense and failure to appear, alleging that his guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary because he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Because no final order issued in the court below, we lack jurisdiction to hear this appeal. Consequently, the appeal is dismissed, and the case is remanded to the post-conviction court for a new evidentiary hearing.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/19/20
Jim Daniel Story, Jr. v. Heidi Rebekah Nussbaumer-Story
M2019-01705-COA-R3-CV

A husband challenges the trial court’s award of alimony in solido to his wife for a period of eight years. Having examined the record and the trial court’s analysis of the statutory factors, we find no abuse of discretion and affirm the trial court’s decision. We further award the wife her reasonable attorney fees on appeal

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 08/19/20
Laurel Martin Griffin v. Kevin Michael Griffin
M2019-01113-COA-R3-CV

After seventeen years of marriage, a wife filed a complaint for divorce. The husband answered and filed a counter-complaint for divorce. The trial court granted the wife a divorce, named her primary residential parent of the parties’ minor children, classified and divided the marital estate, ordered the husband to pay the wife $1,941 per month in child support, and awarded the wife alimony in futuro in the amount of $6,000 per month. The husband appealed. We affirm the trial court’s designation of Wife as the primary residential parent and the division of the marital estate as modified. We vacate the award of child support and the amount of alimony and remand for recalculation.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 08/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Trin Villa Suttles, III
E2019-01392-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Trin Villa Suttles, appeals his 2019 Hamilton County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded conviction of leaving the scene of an accident, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering that he serve his sentence of 11 months and 29 days in confinement. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/18/20
Christina Knapp v. Jason Boykins
W2019-02154-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves the issuance of an order of protection based on allegations of stalking. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/18/20
Michael Surber v. Mountain States Health Alliance d/b/a Johnson City Medical Center
E-01494-COA-R3-CV

This is a medical malpractice action1 in which the plaintiff filed suit against the hospital for treatment he received following an eye injury, raising claims of direct and vicarious liability. The case proceeded to a jury trial, at which the court granted a directed verdict on the claim of direct liability at the close of the plaintiff’s proof. The plaintiff filed this appeal, claiming the trial court erred in limiting his expert witness testimony. We affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 08/18/20
Michael Surber v. Mountain States Health Alliance d/b/a Johnson City Medical Center - Concurring
E2019-01494-COA-R3-CV

I concur in the decision to affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court for Washington County. I write separately to explain what I think is an additional crucial difference in this case from Barkes v. River Park Hosp., Inc., 328 S.W.3d 829 (Tenn. 2010). In addition to what is stated in this Court’s Opinion, I believe what distinguishes this case from Barkes is the respective plaintiff’s proof as to the defendant hospital’s duty of reasonable care to its patients and the applicable standard of care relative to that hospital’s duty.

Washington County Court of Appeals 08/18/20
Blount Memorial Hospital v. Eric Glasgow
E2019-00776-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a hospital’s action against a patient to recover payment for medical services. After a bench trial, the court determined there was not an enforceable contract between the parties, but the hospital was entitled to recover the value of its services under a quantum meruit theory and ruled that the charges billed to the patient represented the actual value of the hospital’s services. The court based its determination on the testimony of the hospital’s witness that, because the rates that a hospital could charge were set by Medicare, the amount charged to the patient was comparable to what other hospitals would charge for the same or similar services. The patient appeals and asks this court to consider whether the hospital proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount it charged for medical services represented the actual value of those services. We affirm the trial court’s decision.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 08/18/20
State of Tennessee v. James Alex Greer
M2019-00939-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, James Alex Greer, was convicted of attempted first degree premeditated murder, a Class A felony, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class C felony, by a Putnam County Criminal Court jury. See T.C.A. §§ 39-12-101 (2014) (criminal attempt), 39-13-202(a)(1) (2014) (subsequently amended) (first degree premeditated murder), 39-17-1324 (2014) (subsequently amended) (employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony). The trial court imposed sentences of eighteen years and six years, respectively, and ordered mandatory consecutive sentencing pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(e)(1), for an effective sentence of twenty-four years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying defense counsel’s mid-trial request to withdraw based upon the Defendant’s attempt to waive the right to counsel and the Defendant’s demand to proceed pro se. We affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/17/20
In Re Jackson D.
E2019-02097-COA-R3-PT

Ricky D. (“Father”) appeals the termination of his parental rights to his minor child, Jackson D. (“the Child”). In July 2018, Heather M. (“Mother”) and her husband, Jason M. (“Stepfather”), filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights to the Child in the Bradley County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”). Following a trial, the Trial Court found that Mother and Stepfather had proven by clear and convincing evidence the ground of Father’s ten-year sentence entered when the Child was younger than eight years old and that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 08/17/20
Jose Sifuentes, D/B/A Jose's Electric v. D.E.C., LLC
M2018-02183-COA-R3-CV

A general contractor hired a subcontractor to install wiring and machinery for a bowling alley.  The subcontractor completed the work, but the general contractor failed to pay the subcontractor’s last five invoices.  The subcontractor sued the general contractor for breach of contract, quantum meruit, promissory estoppel, and promissory fraud.  The general contractor moved to dismiss, asserting that the subcontractor was unlicensed.  The trial court granted the motion based on the subcontractor’s failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated § 62-6-103(b) (2019).  Applying the standard of review applicable to a motion for summary judgment, we conclude that the trial court erred in dismissing the quantum meruit claim based upon the statute.  We affirm in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/17/20
Lavar R. Jernigan v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00182-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, LaVar R. Jernigan, appeals the order of the Rutherford County Circuit Court denying post-conviction relief from his convictions for six counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, for which he received an effective sentence of thirty years’ imprisonment. See State v. LaVar Jernigan, No. M2016-00507-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 1019513 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 15, 2017). The Petitioner argues the State failed to disclose the existence of a “notebook” compilation containing over 6000 text messages between the victim and the Petitioner, in violation of Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure and in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963). He additionally argues that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to (1) advise the Petitioner of the existence of the notebook thereby resulting in the Petitioner’s rejection of a four-year offer by the State to settle the case; (2) object to the admission of the “notebook” at trial; and (3) prepare and preserve the record in his direct appeal. Upon our review, we vacate the Petitioner’s convictions, reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court, and remand this matter for a new trial.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Andy F. Nunez
M2019-00473-CCA-R3-CD

Andy F. Nunez, Defendant, and two co-defendants, Joseph Santillan and Daniela Cruz, were indicted for first degree murder, felony murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery, and reckless endangerment after a Nashville visitor was shot and killed while walking with his friend in September of 2016. Prior to trial, the State entered into a use immunity agreement with co-defendant, Ms. Cruz. Her case was severed from Defendant’s and Mr. Santillan’s case and she ultimately testified for the State. Prior to trial, counsel for Defendant subpoenaed the ten most recent use immunity agreements in first degree murder cases where a testifying co-defendant’s indictment was severed and the case proceeded to final judgment. The State filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The trial court granted the motion. The case proceeded to trial. Based partly on co-defendant Cruz’s testimony, Defendant was convicted as charged. He received an effective sentence of life plus five years. After trial, Ms. Cruz entered into a plea agreement to a reduced charge. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the motion to quash the subpoena. After a review, we determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Andy F. Nunez - Concurring
M2019-00473-CCA-R3-CD

I concur in the results reached by the majority opinion. I write separately to express my opinion that the trial court erred by ruling that the evidence sought by Defendant via the subpoena would be irrelevant. The proposed evidence was never submitted at the pre-trial hearing. Thus, the trial court could only speculate as to what any evidence would reveal. However, any error was harmless in my opinion.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Christopher Lee Williams v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01195-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Christopher Lee Williams, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, seeking relief from his convictions of aggravated kidnapping, reckless endangerment, and domestic assault, and resulting effective ten-year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner claims that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Jennifer Langley And James Broce
E2019-00723-CCA-R9-CD

In this consolidated, interlocutory appeal, we review the order of the trial court granting the motions of the defendants, Jennifer Langley and James Broce, to dismiss the drug-free zone enhancement alleged in their presentments. In reaching its conclusion, the trial court determined that the Mark Vance Memorial Greenway located in Sullivan County, Tennessee was not a public park and in turn, was not a designated drug-free zone under the Drug-Free School Zone Act. The trial court’s finding rendered the enhancement provision of the Act inapplicable to the defendants’ presentments. Upon our review, we conclude the trial court erred in dismissing the enhancement alleged in the presentments because the determination of whether the Mark Vance Memorial Greenway is a public park as contemplated by the Drug-Free School Zone Act is a question of fact to be decided by the finder of fact. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Curtis Johnson, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01809-CCA-R3-PC

Following a bench trial, the Petitioner, Curtis Johnson, Jr., was found guilty of three counts of aggravated robbery, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of twenty-four years. This court affirmed the trial court’s judgments on appeal. State v. Curtis Johnson, Jr., No. W2016-02439-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 324455 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 5, 2018), no perm. app filed. The Petitioner timely filed a post-conviction petition, alleging that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief, concluding that the Petitioner had not proven Counsel was deficient or shown prejudice. On appeal, the Petitioner maintains his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Kelvin A. Lee v. Shawn Phillips, Warden
W2019-01634-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Kelvin A. Lee, appeals as of right from the Lake County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, in which he contended that his life without parole sentence for his first degree felony murder conviction was illegal because it was imposed for a crime he committed as a juvenile. The Petitioner contends that the petition stated a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Robert Wayne Garner v. Grady Perry, Warden
M2019-01349-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Robert Wayne Garner, appeals as of right from the Giles County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, in which he contended that his life sentence for his first degree felony murder was illegal because the statute governing his release eligibility does not allow for the possibility of parole. The Petitioner contends that the petition stated a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Giles County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
State of Tennessee v. William Brian Robinson
M2019-00451-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, William Brian Robinson, was convicted by a jury of second degree murder, for which he received a sentence of seventeen years. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-210. On appeal, the Defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred by denying his request to present evidence that the State had previously pursued two theories of guilt that were inconsistent with its theory at trial; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction, specifically, challenging the mens rea element of knowing; (3) the trial court erred by allowing a witness to testify about blood spatter evidence when that witness had not been qualified as an expert; and (4) the cumulative effect of these errors requires a new trial. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial on the charge of second degree murder, during which the Defendant shall be permitted to present evidence of the State’s previous theories of guilt.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
April Michelle McAdams v. Charles Alan McAdams
E2019-02150-COA-R3-CV

This case involved a petition to modify the parties’ parenting plan to change the primary residential parent. The father sought to be designated as the primary residential parent of his minor child, alleging, among other things, that the child’s sibling was violent, that the mother had moved to a new county and enrolled the child in a new school, that he never received notice from the mother regarding the child’s medical appointments, and that the mother intentionally interfered with his and the child’s relationship. Because mother was not listed in father’s response to mother’s interrogatory—which specifically asked for a list of all potential trial witnesses—the trial court prohibited father’s counsel from calling mother as a witness during father’s case-in-chief. The trial court, however, allowed father to submit mother’s deposition as an exhibit and also allowed father to call mother to testify as to events that had occurred since her deposition had been taken. At the close of father’s proof, mother’s counsel moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court granted, finding that none of the incidents relied upon by father constituted a material change in circumstances. Construing the trial court’s order as if it were an order granting a motion for involuntary dismissal, and concluding that barring father from calling mother as a witness in his case-in-chief was harmless error by the trial court, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/13/20
Mario Bateman aka Mario Woods v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01388-CCA-R3-ECN

In 2007, a Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Mario Bateman a/k/a Mario Woods, of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to life in prison. This court affirmed the conviction. State v. Mario Bateman a/k/a Mario Woods, No. W2007-00571-CCA-R3-CD, 2008 WL 4756675, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Oct. 28, 2008), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 23, 2009). The Petitioner then unsuccessfully filed, in turn, a petition for post-conviction relief, a writ of error coram nobis, and a federal habeas corpus petition. He then filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis at issue in this case, alleging that he had newly discovered evidence in the form of an affidavit from the victim’s father asserting that the victim was “violent, aggressive, and a bully.” He contended that he may have been convicted of a lesser-included offense had the jury heard this testimony and asked that the lower court toll the statute of limitations. The lower court summarily dismissed the petition for a writ of error coram nobis, finding that the Petitioner could have discovered the evidence sooner, that the evidence was cumulative to the evidence presented at trial, and that the Petitioner had not shown that the evidence might have affected the outcome of the trial. The Petitioner filed this appeal. After review, we affirm the lower court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
Michael Cory Halliburton v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01458-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Michael Cory Halliburton, appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
State of Tennessee v. Ramon Luis Hernandez, Jr.
M2019-01482-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Ramon Luis Hernandez, Jr., pled guilty to one count of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor involving over 50 images. Defendant agreed to consecutive sentencing, with the trial court to determine the length and manner of service of the sentences after a sentencing hearing. The trial court sentenced Defendant to five years for each offense for an effective sentence of ten years of incarceration. After a review, we conclude that the trial court sentenced Defendant to a sentence within the range for each conviction and followed the proper sentencing procedure. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion and the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/12/20
In Re Aiden M.
E2019-01536-COA-R3-PT

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. The original petition, which asserted multiple grounds for termination, was filed in June of 2016. At the time, the ground of abandonment for failure to visit and support required the petitioners to prove the parent’s failure to visit and support the child was, inter alia, willful. Prior to trial, the petitioners filed an amended complaint to assert, inter alia, the ground of abandonment based on the amended statute, which did not require proof of willfulness. When the case went to trial, the court based its ruling on the grounds asserted in both the original and amended petition, considered two different four-month periods for the ground of abandonment—one preceding the filing of the original petition and one preceding the filing of the amended
petition—and determined that all of the alleged grounds had been proven and that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. This appeal followed. We have determined that the petitioners failed to prove the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility of the child. We also hold, inter alia, that the trial court erred in considering two different fourmonth periods for the ground of abandonment because the claims asserted in the amended petition arose out of the same conduct as that set forth in the original petition; thus, the amendment related back to the date of the original pleading. Nevertheless, the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court’s determination that the petitioners proved grounds based on the mother’s conduct during the relevant period preceding the filing of the original petition. We also find the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court’s determination that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Having affirmed the trial court’s determination that two grounds were established and that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest, we affirm the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

Sullivan County State Court Clerks 08/11/20